The United Airlines Incident from the Perspective of an Airline Transport Pilot rated Aviation AttorneyEvery once in awhile a company finds itself at the center of an issue that triggers massive public outrage. Generally this anger is well-placed and is, in fact, one of the market forces that us free-market types depend on in order to shape corporate behavior. On rare occasion, however, there are nuances surrounding such an event that causes well-intended members of the public to react in a manner that is, quite frankly, wholly inappropriate. I believe that the incident on April 9th during which Dr. David Dao was forcibly removed from an aircraft prior to departure from Chicago is exactly such an event, and what follows is my explanation as to why:A very common sentiment that is circulating on social media is that Dr. Dao was entitled to remain on the aircraft because he had already bought a ticket. This is incorrect for several reasons:Reason one: Because they said so. Aviation and maritime law are somewhat unique in that they govern behavior of people that are either out at sea or flying through the sky. Accordingly, they are structured to account for the fact that many of the public resources that we take for granted on dry land (police, medical, and firefighting personnel, to name a few) are simply unavailable. To this end, a great deal of authority is vested in the captain and crewmembers of these vessels. It is actually a federal felony to interfere with a crewmember in the performance of their duties, which includes handling passenger boarding and unboarding (See 49 USC § 46504 & 14 CFR Parts 119 & 121).I am in no way suggesting that United didn’t screw up; they did. While overbooking is a practice that is both ubiquitous and necessary, the generally accepted policy for handling an overbooked flight is to deny boarding to those for whom there is no available seat. By failing to follow this procedure, United put itself in the position of having to remove Dr. Dao from the aircraft. As most children are taught at a young age, however, two wrongs don’t make a right. In this case Dr. Dao being permitted to board the aircraft did nothing to change the fact that he was obligated by federal law to comply with the flight crew when they told him to depart the aircraft.Reason two: The contract. When a person buys an airline ticket they are entering into a contractual relationship with the airline. Pursuant to that contract the airline is entitled to the purchase price of the ticket, and the passenger is entitled to carriage aboard the aircraft in accordance with the other terms and conditions that the passenger agreed to when they bought the ticket. In the case of buying an airline ticket from any major US carrier, being bumped from an overbooked flight is an express term to which passengers agree. Thus, it is my opinion that United did not breach its contract with Dr. Dao when they bumped him from the flight.Even if United did breach their contract with Dr. Dao, he would still have had no legal right to remain on board. In the event that the airline breaches its agreement with the passenger, the passenger has a legal claim against the airline. The remedy that the passenger would be entitled to recover in that instance is monetary damages. It is of critical importance to realize, however, that the non-breaching party has absolutely no legal right whatsoever to compel the airline to perform its contractual obligations. Read that sentence again. When the other party breaches a contract YOU CANNOT LEGALLY FORCE THEM TO DO THE THING THEY WERE CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED TO DO, you can only sue them for monetary damages. Compelling the breaching party to perform is called “specific performance,” and it is a remedy that is simply unavailable in this type of case.There is little doubt that United could have avoided this entire situation by recognizing that they were overbooked prior to beginning the boarding process, but the fact is that it was Dr. Dao’s decision to act like a petulant child and to go “limp like a ragdoll” that made it necessary to forcibly remove him. It is Dr. Dao that is the bad actor here, and those who are acting as though he is some sort of social justice hero are failing to see the big picture. When you are on board an aircraft your life and the lives of everyone else on board are in the hands of the flight crew. They have a duty to comply with (and sometimes to enforce) the laws that govern aviation operations, and passengers have a legal obligation to not interfere with their performance of those duties. Dr. Dao took it upon himself to unilaterally dictate to United and the flight crew that his authority over the flight was superior to their own. At that point, the prudent decision of the captain was to remove him from the flight. As an FAA certificated Airline Transport Pilot I can say with confidence that I would not so much as start an engine if I knew that there was a passenger on board who was already being confrontational with another crewmember. Why? Because the ONLY opportunity to remove an unruly passenger is prior to departure. Thus, all decisions of this nature, for the safety of everyone on board and on the ground, must be heavily biased toward the assumption that a potential problem that is evident on the ground is going to escalate into an actual problem in the air.